Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing in response to the consultation regarding proposed updates to the National Planning Policy Framework.
Since 2005 I have been campaigning to reduce house building to make sure house building goes hand in hand with infrastructure and only at a rate sustainable for nature. As you will be aware, I supported amendment NC21 to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to abolish top down housing targets. This was primarily because, over the past 50 years, Basingstoke and Deane has built homes for 150,000 people, which is double the rate in the rest of the country. As I have said explained in previous correspondence, this building rate is well beyond the needs of our community, is stretching the capacity of the NHS and is placing significant burdens on the national environment.
Many of the proposed changes to the NPPF are welcome and will provide local communities with a greater say over what is built in their areas, however, I have four remaining concerns that I would like to see addressed:
1. 5 year land supply (5YLS)
The obligation to produce a 5YLS to show an area has allocated enough sites to meet the top-down housing target significantly undermines the local authority’s control over the planning system. Once a site has been listed on the 5YLS, there is little chance of development being prevented by the local authority. If, however, a 5YLS is not produced, the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ is introduced, meaning that applications must be granted unless very strong harms can be shown. This leads to a building free-for-all opening the door to a host of speculative planning applications.
Due to the undermining effects that the 5YLS have on local authority decision-making, I welcome proposals to remove the obligation to maintain a rolling 5YLS, however, I urge the government to go further and abolish the 5YLS completely.
2. Historic Building Rates
Hitherto, local councils such as Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council have been penalised for high historic high building rates, by being required to adopt ever larger targets. This is a clear injustice that must urgently be addressed by allowing local authorities to consider historic building rates when formulating their local plans.
It was therefore, encouraging that in your ‘Dear Colleague’ letter (dated 05.12.22), you confirmed that you ‘’want to recognise that some areas have historically overdelivered on housing – but they are not rewarded for this’’. I fully agree with this sentiment. To redress this situation, guidance to councils must be clear that high levels of historic housebuilding constitute ‘exceptional circumstances’ which permit an alternative calculation of housing needs.
3. Role of the planning inspector
Many of the positive proposals set out in this consultation are contingent upon the decisions made by the Planning Inspectorate. As such, clear and unequivocal instructions must be given to the Planning Inspectorate informing them that local council plans must not be overridden so long as they are based on reasonable evidence. In the same ‘Dear Colleague’ letter as referenced above, you assured MPs on this point, explaining that inspectors will ‘’be required to take a more reasonable approach to authorities . . by taking a more pragmatic approach’’.
4. Speed of implementation
Finally, many local authorities, such as my own, are imminently due to publish their next local plan. If the reforms in the NPPF are to have a meaningful impact, it is essential that transitional arrangements are in place so that local councils can use the new flexibilities immediately. If this is not the case, it will be years before the changes can be implemented, years too late for communities like mine. Once more, your ‘Dear Colleague’ letter recognised this issue, acknowledging that transitional arrangements are crucial for local authorities with local plans which are at an advanced stage.
As I mentioned above, I believe many of the reforms that you have already suggested are positive and many of the assurances included in your ‘Dear Colleague’ letter are greatly welcome. However, we must go further in these four areas if we are to protect the character of our local communities and our natural environment.
With best wishes,
Rt Hon Dame Maria Miller
MP for Basingstoke